Implications of Animal Consumption

The consumption of animal products is globally pervasive.

Whether a cultural cornerstone, a religious requirement, or simply because people like the taste of them, animal products are consumed in disturbingly high amounts worldwide. While the consumption of animal products is a widespread practice, it is important to internalize the stresses being placed on the environment by the animal agriculture industry.

Simply put, animal product consumption is taxing on the environment. Negative implications include large water footprints, significant greenhouse gas emissions, and various other agricultural requirements. To elaborate, in a study of meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans, researchers found the greenhouse gas emissions of individuals adhering to a plant-based diet to be approximately three times less than those of individuals with a ‘high-meat diet’. In this study, the researchers defined a ‘high-meat diet’ as consumption of a minimum of 100 grams of meat per day. In other words, a ‘high-meat diet’ individual that eats a three ounce portion of meat is 85 grams of the way there. Or, another way of thinking about it, a three ounce portion of meat is roughly the same size as a deck of cards. So, as a threshold, this is fairly easy to surpass. Additionally, animal products account for roughly ⅓ of the water footprint of all agriculture worldwide. This is further magnified by the finding that the water footprint per calorie of beef is about 20 times larger than that for cereal and other starchy root vegetables. This analysis using ratios should be more than just thought-provoking for our readers — it’s an excessive and, generally, wasteful practice.

In the European Union, researchers modeled the environmental implications of a transition towards a more plant-based diet. They found that doing so would reduce nitrogen gas emissions by about 40% and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 25 and 40%. While this study simply used theoretical models, their is unequivocal certainty that the reduction in our society’s consumption of animal products would have profoundly positive effects on the environment.

Every action, every choice we make, is attached to an environmental consequence — including eating! Therefore, we should all strive to be aware of the foods we are putting into our body and know that they will not only have an effect on our health, but an effect on the health of our planet. By choosing which foods to consume, we are also choosing to either endorse foods that support the sustainability of the environment or foods that harm the environment. When we purchase more foods that harm the environment, we are sending the signal that we want those foods to be produced in higher quantities and that we support the industries that support those foods. To paraphrase a common saying, we are putting our money where our mouths are when we eat.

Which industries do you want to support? Those that strive for environmental sustainability or those that drain our limited resources and harm our planet?

MLK Day

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Was Right About More Than Race.

On April 16th, 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr penned the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]”. In that letter, the Reverend discussed how an “appalling silence of the good people,” constricted African-American rights. Not only did Rev. King believe that this inaction allowed for evil to triumph for so long, but he was firmly convinced that it was now “time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

“More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

He was right, too. Racial injustice was, truly, an unstable bedrock for social norms. From dining establishment to schools to government institutions, African-Americans faced broad-based discrimination. Despite the growing political and moral necessity to democratize civil rights, the transition was not peaceful. There were, sadly, so many violent clashes.

Black Power movements favoring pan-Africanism struggled for freedom against white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the surge of support in the African-American communities to engage in reciprocal violence against whites, history ultimately remembers Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement of non-violent protest that succeeded in bringing equality and freedoms to African-Americans in the United States. The cost was his life, however. Shot on the balcony of the Lorraine hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, Reverend King subsequently died of his wounds. His death cemented his legacy as a civil rights activist and he was only 39 years old at the time. He had lived in a profound way in such a short time.

Despite his humanly faults, Reverend King modeled how activists of large movements ought to behave. In particular, the lessons he taught have application when considering environmental activism. There is an “appalling silence” of so many good people when it comes to waste. While most are aware of the damaging effects of climate change, generally consumer are not eco-conscientious on a daily basis. Say no to the plastic straws!

Plastic, water, and waste consumption all account for a life that is out of balance with nature and capitalism. The true costs of our actions are not reflected in market forces, thereby disallowing markets to act with true efficiency. These revenue-neutral carbon taxes or cap-and-trade policies fail on a larger scale because bearing the consequences is never popular with re-election. Other times, when an environmental policy is implemented it is egregiously flawed like the plastic straw ban in California. There is a middle, moderate ground were lawmakers ought to function by reducing plastic consumption (i.e. straws), but not by threatening to imprison Santa Barbara bartenders.

We can make a difference each day by doing simple things right. Say no to unnecessary plastic, recycle when you can, and be a good steward of the environment.

Crisis Management

Secretary Pompeo wants the State Department to get its swagger back.

While the State may start to swagger again it also needs agility and adaptability to face down three big trends. Chaos, complexity and convergence will have profound implications for the United States and the world order in the mid-21st Century.

First the world may be tipping to chaos. More than 65 million people are displaced; the highest number since World War II. Displaced populations often accelerate local conflicts into broader regional wars. The world is also experiencing a substantial increase in the number of disasters — both natural and political. Right now four concurrent famines place 20 million people at grave risk. The near future may likely be more chaotic than any time since World War II.

A chaotic world coupled with rising nationalism pose a complex threat to liberal post-World War II institutions. The Syrian crisis continues to challenge the nation-state order in the Middle East. Rising powers and the proliferation of non-state actors seek to destabilize political and economic systems. Yet, the United Nations and international financial institutions are in desperate need of reform; these institutions operate on an outdated model which does not align with the challenges of the mid-21st Century. This trend may move international systems from order to uncertainty.

Despite chaos and complexity, technology, public and private finance, as well as rapid advances in power and water are converging forces to change the human experience in frontier markets. Specifically, community access to power and water coupled with agriculture and technology can fundamentally change economic and political development. The convergent world has seen rapid transformation in standards of living, education and health to previously vulnerable populations.

Given chaos, complexity and convergence, America will certainly remain the dominant power in the decades ahead. Yet, as President Trump’s election demonstrates, American voters have little appetite for big civilian attempts to nation build in far off lands. America canassert its interests abroad while not bankrupting its future at home simply by being smarter and more efficient in responding to many of the most complex crises.

First, leverage the private sector to help fix a humanitarian assistance system that is overwhelmed and failing. The United Nations estimates that the humanitarian architecture costs $25 billion — and yet there remains a fundamental need for leadership, adaptive technology, forensic audits, causal impact analysis, and better results. The continued spread of conflict particularly in the Middle East also underscores the requirement for new and creative solutions that bridge the divide between humanitarian relief and much cheaper, more efficient development assistance. It is time to bring start-up culture to the humanitarians.

Second, Senators Corker and Coons are leading a bipartisan effort to reform America food aid to make it far more efficient. Allowing for local purchase of food in a crisis zone, if available, would save millions of lives while lowering costs. There is, however, much more which can be done to improve food aid. For instance, expanding the use of iris scans, mobile payments, RFID chips, electronic vouchers, drone technology and operating systems reform could dramatically improve impact over cost. Additionally, the famine early warning system based on satellite forecasting has directly saved hundreds of thousands of lives but was developed in the 1985 and now currently fails to adequately capture crowdsourced and big data analytics. Collectively, food aid reform — from procurement to distribution — is ripe for disruption change.

Third, encourage private-public partnerships to transform the water, power and agriculture nexus. If Google can map all streets, then it is time to map all water sources in Africa. Water technology, including desalination, efficient use and re-use technology, remains largely untapped in semi-arid environments in the Middle East and Africa. The relationship to water and power with solar, wind or biomass can change fundamental economics for communities. The relationship between water and power is on the tipping point of massive change in many frontier markets.

Finally for high priority crises, the Administration must begin by building expeditionary embassy teams. Think Rumsfeld after 9/11 and his small military units deployed in Afghanistan. The decade ahead will demand something similar in diplomacy — small, professional, resourced, and adaptable teams which can be deployed as interagency crisis responders in theaters where the US military is engaged, where the U.S. partners closely with allies on cross-border crises, or where there is a protracted crisis.

The mid-21st Century is coming. U.S. leadership, resolve and innovation can shape the most complicated challenges ahead to favor American interests — but policy leaders will need to hack the systems that served us since World War II.

This article was originally written by Dave Harden and published on Medium.

Big Oil & Renewables

‘Big Oil’ invests more in renewable energies than any other industry.

Mistakenly, too many people listen to CNN or Fox News when it comes to the environment. Instead they should be reading articles directly from the sources in question. If a citizen wants to know what the unemployment rate is, they should not listen to the ‘ra ra’ nature of sensationalized media. Instead they should Google “unemployment rate bureau of labor statistics” and click on the link from the Department of Labor.

Similarly, for climate change they should read reputable sources from NASA to the reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Despite the loads of credible news sources that are readily available online, society has become increasingly partisan and closed off to facts.

To the Republicans, there is a stereotype that most Democrats are '“hippies” or “tree huggers”. To the Democrats, there is a stereotype that most Republicans are “capitalist pigs” or “climate change deniers”. Thankfully, the stereotypes are wrong.

Sixty-six percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents and 90 percent of Democrats said they believed in human-caused climate change and the utility of reducing greenhouse gases.

Shelly Leachman @ the University of California, Santa Barbara

Generally, the main disagreements are based upon blind ideological loyalty and not policy. Policy differs only slightly between the Republicans and Democrats. Republicans favor “revenue-neutral carbon taxes” while Democrats favor “cap-and-trade” policy.

Revenue-neutral carbon taxes are two-fold. Revenue-neutral means that every dollar increased with a carbon tax, there is another dollar decreased in some other aspect of government. These types of proposals take into account the negative external consequences of pollution, but offset government in another way. British Columbia in Canada was the first North American country to implement a measure.

Cap-and-trade policy is another good method of holding both consumers, firms, and government accountable. Firstly, there is a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be admitted. As time progresses, the cap becomes more strict which is aligned with the various climate change reports that argue we must be carbon negative in the future. Secondly, companies have the ability to buy and sell 'carbon allowances’ like any other type of market, but the higher prices incentive firms to creatively lower carbon emission.

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), which brings together 13 of the world’s top oil and gas companies, pledged earlier this year to slash emissions of a potent greenhouse gas by a fifth by 2025.

Ron Bousso from Reuters

Despite increasing pressure from governments, many are worried these multinational companies are duplicitous in blocking legislation that could help the environment. According to Jeanne Martin of campaign group ShareAction, she criticized the oil industry for “blocking climate initiatives and regulations, and [investments] in fossil fuel projects that have no place in a well-below 2 degrees Celsius world.

She could absolutely be right. However, the greatest thrust that drives companies is profit. Despite the variable renewable energy profit margins, they climbed as high as 10.21% in September 2018.

Consumers and firms must realign how they buy to change corporate culture.

Market Failures

The market is not perfectly efficient.

No matter how much one may argue, the greatest social welfare cannot come from perfectly de-regulated industries. The role of the government has a greater need to create ‘fair markets’, rather than ‘free markets’. Similarly, this is why the U.S. Government has a Consumer Financial Protection Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, and various other entities. These government entities are trying to help level the proverbial playing field by creating rules that allow for markets that have an easier access to information, have time-consistent preferences for consumers, and minimize principal-agent impact.

A market failure occurs when the market does not allocate scarce resources to generate the greatest social welfare. A wedge exists between what a private person does given market prices and what society might want him or her to do to protect the environment. Such a wedge implies wastefulness or economic inefficiency; resources can be reallocated to make at least one person better off without making anyone else worse off.

Environmental Economics by Hanley, Shogren, and White (2007)

According to the definition used by Hanley, Shogren, and White, there are hundreds of thousands of economic inefficiencies that occur in the market place. Some examples of market failures can range from externalities to public goods like the ocean or atmosphere. However, this doesn’t mean that the US Government can subsidize and tax the consumer or firms to create perfectly efficient markets — the market is much more complicated than that.

If you liked this article, expect to see more updated weekly on Counter Current. We plan to write short articles for readers to stay informed, but not to take up too much of your time! Check in regularly for fresh content!